Here are a few headlines about an African tragedy: “Africa’s Worst Locust Plague in Decades Threatens Millions” (The Wall Street Journal), “‘Unprecedented’ Locust Invasion Approaches Full-Blown Crisis” (Scientific American), “Somalia Declares Locust Outbreak a ‘National Emergency'” (The National) and “UN Calls for International Action on East Africa Locust Outbreak” (Bloomberg Green).
This ongoing tragedy is mostly man-made, according to an analysis by Paul Driessen, who is a senior policy adviser with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
Driessen says that billions of desert locusts have attacked the eastern Africa nations of Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. According to the U.N., the locust attack in Kenya is the worst in 70 years and the worst in 25 years for other east African nations. Locusts are destroying crops and threatening tens of millions of Africans with lost livelihoods and starvation. These locust swarms can blanket 460 square miles at a time and consume more than 400 million pounds of vegetation daily. They reproduce fast, too, meaning locust swarms could be 500 times bigger in six months.
Africa’s locust plague is man-made. Economic development organizations and activist nongovernmental organizations have foisted “agroecology” on the poorest nations — an organic-style agriculture. They promote the virtues of peasant farming. So how do these poor farmers fight the locust plague? Driessen says: “Desperate Africans are responding with ‘time-tested’ methods: whistling and shouting loudly, banging on metal buckets, waving blankets and sticks, crushing the bugs, perhaps even roasting and eating them, under UN-approved nutrition programs. In Eritrea, they are using ‘more advanced’ methods: hand-held and truck-mounted sprayers. In Kenya, police are firing machine guns and tear gas into the swarms!”
Antonio Guterres of Portugal, the U.N. secretary-general, claimed global warming as a cause of the problem. He said there is a link between climate change and the unprecedented locust crisis plaguing Ethiopia and East Africa. Guterres said: “Warmer seas mean more cyclones generating the perfect breeding ground for locusts. Today the swarms are as big as major cities and it is getting worse by the day.”
Guterres’ suggestion that global warming is the cause of today’s plague is sheer nonsense. Locust infestations have been feared and revered throughout mankind’s history. Devastating locust attacks in Egypt around 1446 B.C. were mentioned in the Book of Exodus in the Bible. “The Iliad” describes locusts taking flight to escape fire. Plagues of locusts are also mentioned in the Quran.
Driessen concludes: “A primary reason this plague of locusts has overwhelmed East Africa — indeed, perhaps THE primary reason — is that the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, other UN agencies and multiple environmentalist NGOs have been extolling and imposing ‘agroecology’ on Africa. This highly politicized ‘movement’ rabidly opposes hybrid seeds, synthetic insecticides and fertilizers, biotechnology, and even mechanized equipment like tractors! Acceptance of its tenets and restrictions has become a condition for poor farmers getting seeds and other assistance, and their countries and local communities getting development loans and food aid.”
By the way, locusts are not only a threat to crops; they threaten people in another way. In early January, a Boeing 737 on final landing approach to Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, found itself in the midst of a massive cloud of locusts swarming above the airport. The insects were sucked into the plane’s engines. Their bodies were splattered across the windshield blinding the pilots to the runway ahead. The Boeing 737 climbed above the swarm. The pilot depressurized the cabin so he could open the side window and reach around to clear the windshield by hand. Diverting to Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, the pilot was able to land the plane safely.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University